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Ricardo Stein, an architect of peace in Guatemala, is dead at 62

May 31, 2011 |  1:01 pm

Ricardo Stein, a Guatemalan intellectual and human rights advocate who became one of the key architects of the 1996 peace accords ending the country's long civil war, has died of cancer. He was 62 (link in Spanish).

Stein spent much of his life fighting rights abuses in Guatemala and neighboring El Salvador during a dark era of dictatorships and death squads in Central America.

Trained in mathematics and physics in his homeland and the United States, Stein received a doctorate in education from Boston University.

He spent a number of years in El Salvador, where he created the Center for Information, Documentation and Support for Research at the Jesuit-run University of Central America. He returned home to Guatemala in 1989 and became an advisor in peace negotiations and later in the verification of the peace accords. In 1998, he became executive director of the Soros Foundation Guatemala (link in Spanish), a position he held until 2006.

Stein was also a special counselor and coordinator for the U.N. Development Program in Guatemala.

"One of Stein's visionary ideas was to use the Soros Foundation strategically as the instrument to create a new Guatemala,” said Fernando Carrera, now executive director of the Soros Foundation Guatemala. “He innovated and designed a small laboratory of ideas where intellectuals, military officers, businessmen and Mayans shared and contributed ideas.”

Among Stein's achievements, Carrera said, was establishing a Mayan political leadership, championing Mayan women as leaders and pushing to transform human rights organizations from protest groups into catalysts for a new vision of the state of law. "These ideas may sound easy to anybody today, but they are not if you take into account that Stein developed these ideas at a time of Guatemala's political upheaval,” Carrera said.

Stein died Monday after a long battle with lung cancer, according to his cousin, Eduardo Stein, a former vice president.

-- Alex Renderos in San Salvador